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No.  38,   18  pages,   1   figure,    1  plate.  July  10,   1963- 



G  Dallas  Hanna 


Department  of  Geology 

California  Academy  of  Sciences 


North  of  the  Brooks  Range  in  Arctic  Alaska  and  beyond  a  belt  of  roll- 
ing foot  hills,  an  area  of  very  low  relief  covers  more  than  35,000  square 
miles.  Much  of  this  lies  within  U.  S.  Naval  Petroleum  Reserve  No.  4  and  has 
been  adequately  described  in  current  and  available  literature  together  with 
details   of   test   drilling   by    the    Navy  (Reed,   1958). 

On  the  Reserve  and  in  the  area  adjacent  to  it  to  the  east  there  is  sur- 
face evidence  of  oil  in  numerous  places.  It  is  the  purpose  of  this  paper  to 
bring  together  in  one  place  all  of  the  information  I  have  been  able  to  gather 
during  several  years  work  in  that  region.  My  information  has  come  from  many 
sources:  (a)  published  records;  (b)  interviews  with  residents;  (c)  personal  in- 
vestigation. The  area  is  so  large  that  a  map  suitable  for  octavo  publication 
would  be  inadequate  to  show  necessary  details.  Therefore  reference  is  made 
to  the  Geological  Map  of  Alaska  compiled  by  Dutro  &  Payne  (1957)  which  is 
currently  available.  The  small  outline  map  herewith  will  show  the  general  lo- 

*  The  work  upon  which  this  report  is  based  was  done  under  subcontract  No. 
ONR-205  with  the  Arctic  Institute  of  North  America  and  the  Office  of  Naval 


In  preparing  this  record  I  have  received  help  from  too  many  people  to 
warrant  individual  acknowledgment,  but  to  all  of  them  I  must  express  my 
deep  appreciation.  The  result  would  have  been  extremely  fragmentary,  how- 
ever, had  it  not  been  for  the  assistance  of  Mr.  James  Dalton  of  Fairbanks, 
Alaska,  Manager  of  Construction  of  DEW  line  during  my  stay  at  Point  Barrow; 
Mr.  Ted  Matthews,  also  of  Fairbanks  and  in  charge  of  transportation  during 
much  of  the  drilling  operations  for  the  Navy,  1944-1953  and  Director  of  the 
Arctic  Research  Laboratory,  1954;  Dr.  Ira  L.  Wiggins,  Director  of  the  same 
Laboratory  during  much  of  the  drilling  activity;  Mr.  Max  Brewer,  Director  of 
the  Laboratory  during  a  part  of  my  stay  there;  and  Lieutenant  Commander  R, 
L.  Reynolds,  U.  S.  Navy  Ice  Patrol,  1957,  who  furnished  some  much  needed 
transportation.  And  lastly  it  is  with  much  pleasure  that  I  can  record  the  val- 
uable assistance  of  Messrs.  George  Gryc,  George  Gates,  Don  Miller,  W.  W. 
Patton,  Jr.,  Robert  Detterman,  and  Irving  Tailleur  of  the  Alaska  Branch,  U.S. 
Geological  Survey  for  critically  reviewing  the  manuscript. 


It  is  natural  to  assume  that  all  of  the  presently  known  oil  seepages 
were  discovered  by  Eskimos  long  ago  but  since  they  left  no  written  record, 
our  information  from  them  is  limited  to  the  recollections  of  living  persons. 
Therefore  the  historical  record  will  be  presented  first. 

The  first  Europeans  to  reach  Point  Barrow  were  two  members  of  the 
crew  of  the  British  ship  Blossom  in  1826.  These  were  Thomas  Elson  and  En- 
sign Smyth  who  had  proceeded  northward  along  the  coast  in  a  small  boat  af- 
ter the  ship  had  been  blocked  by  ice  near  Franklin  Point  (Reed,  p.  17).  The 
stay  at  Barrow  was  short  and  no  mention  of  the  seepages  or  oil  has  been  re- 

The  first  explorers  who  traversed  the  Arctic  Coast  past  any  of  the  seep- 
ages were  Sir  John  Franklin  and  party  in  the  same  year.  He  was  attempting 
to  round  the  northern  part  of  the  continent  and  perhaps  meet  the  Blossom,  but 
his  small  boats  were  blocked  by  ice  at  Return  Point  near  the  mouth  of  Kupar- 
uk  River.  They  passed  and  named  Manning  Point  and  Humphrey  Point,  near 
both  of  which  surface  evidence  of  oil  has  been  reliably  reported,  but  no  men- 
tion of  this  appeared  in  the  report  of  the  expedition. 

In  order  to  complete  the  traverse  of  the  north  coast,  the  Hudson's  Bay 
Company  outfitted  a  party  in  1837  under  Thomas  Simpson  and  Peter  Warren 
Dease.  With  12  crew  men  and  two  specially  built  sail  boats  they  descended 
the  Mackenzie  River,  travelled  westward  through  shoals  and  broken  ice  to  a 
point  four  miles  west  of  Cape  Simpson,  named  for  George  Simpson,  Governor 
of  the  Company.  Because  of  ice  conditions,  the  boats  were  left  there  in  charge 
of  Dease,  and  Simpson  with  five  companions  started  on  foot  for  Point  Barrow 
on  August  1.    On  the  way  they  picked  up  an  umiak  and  reached  Point  Barrow 


by  this  boat  August  4,  1837.  On  August  6  they  rejoined  their  companions  and 
proceeded  eastward  over  their  previous  route.  Thus  Dease  with  seven  men 
camped  for  over  a  week  within  a  few  miles  of  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages  but 
no  mention  is  made  of  them  in  the  narrative  (Dease  and  Simpson,  1838,  pp. 
213-225;  Simpson,  1843,  pp.  109-168). 

Among  the  many  early  ships  which  visited  the  Arctic,  especially  those 
in  search  of  the  missing  explorer  Sir  John  Franklin,  there  was  one  which  it 
seems,  might  have  come  across  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages.  This  was  H.M.S. 
Plover.  This  vessel  had  winter  quarters  in  Elson  Lagoon  near  Point  Barrow 
during  1852-1853  and  1853-1854.  The  surgeon,  John  Simpson,  (1855)  pub- 
lished an  extensive  account  of  the  Eskimos  and  their  country.  From  this  it  is 
obvious  that  he  acquired  a  good  working  knowledge  of  their  language,  but  if 
they  ever  mentioned  "pitch"  to  him  he  made  no  record  of  it. 

During  1881-1883  an  International  Polar  Expedition  under  Lieut.  P.  H. 
Ray  was  stationed  at  Point  Barrow  and  resulted  in  the  gathering  of  a  wealth 
of  information  about  that  part  of  the  Arctic  (Ray,  1885).  The  general  report 
contains  no  information  regarding  the  presence  of  oil  or  tar.  However,  one 
member  of  the  party  was  the  indefatigable  naturalist,  John  Murdoch.  In  his 
report  on  the  Ethnological  results  of  the  Point  Barrow  Expedition  he  said: 
"We  also  heard  a  story  of  a  lake  of  tar  or  bitumen  'a'dngm,'  said  to  be  situ- 
ated on  an  island  a  day's  sail  east  of  the  point"  (Murdock,  1892,  p.  61).  This 
unquestionably  refers  to  the  Cape  Simpson  seepage. 

On  May  4,  1896,  Ensign  W.  L.  Howard  of  Lieut.  Stoney's  party  was 
travelling  down  the  upper  part  of  the  Etivluk  River  on  a  trip  from  the  Noatak 
River  to  Point  Barrow.  When  about  50  miles  downstream  from  the  point  where 
the  portage  strikes  the  Etivluk,  he "passed  a  hill  about  500  feet  eleva- 
tion with  outcroppings  of  coal.  On  the  sides  of  this  hill  beyond  the  coal  were 
also  found  large  pieces  of  a  substance  called  wood  by  the  natives;  it  was 
hard,  brittle,  light  brown  in  color,  very  light  in  weight  and  burned  readily, 
giving  out  quantities  of  gas.  This  material  was  scattered  about  in  all  shapes, 
sizes,  and  quantities.  The  snow  and  ice  made  it  impossible  to  climb  and  dig; 
a  specimen  was  preserved"  (Stoney,  1899,  p.  814). 

In  referring  to  this  occurrence.  Brooks  (1909,  p.  62)  quoted  Dall  who 
probably  saw  the  sample  collected  because  of  additional  information  he  gave. 

He  stated  that  the  material  " recalled  pitch  in  hardness  and  weight,  but 

not  brilliant  nor  disposed  to  melt  with  heat,  but  making  a  clean  cut,  like  'plug' 
tobacco,  when  whittled  with  a  knife.  This  material  was  sufficiently  inflam- 
mable to  ignite  and  burn  with  a  steady  flame  on  applying  a  match  to  a  corner 
of  it,  so  that  in  their  cold  and  weary  journey  it  formed  a  most  welcome  sub- 
stitute for  wood  or  other  fuel  for  the  camp  fire"    (Dall,  1896,  p.  818). 

This  locality  is  in  the  upper  drainage  of  the  Colville  River  and  on  the 
Aupuk  anticline.  It  is  in  the  same  vicinity  as  a  methane  gas  seepage  discov- 


ered  in  1944  by  Field  Party  No.  4  of  the  U.  S.  Geological  Survey.  This  seep- 
age was  described  as  rapidly  escaping  gas  in  a  small  lake  about  one  mile 
above  the  junction  of  Aupuk  Creek  and  the  Colville  and  near  the  river  (Reed, 
1958,  p.  56).  A  more  detailed  description  of  this  seepage  was  given  by  Gryc 
(1959,  p.  92),  and  is  summarized  later  in  this  report.  The  age  of  the  shale  is 
given  as  Upper  Jurassic,  Fortress  Mountain  formation  (Patton,  W.W.,  Personal 
communication,  1961),  it  outcrops  extensively  and  is  found  secondarily  in 
later  sediments. 

Leffingwell  (1918,  p.  178)  apparently  did  not  visit  the  Cape  Simpson 
seepages  but  gave  a  brief  report  of  their  existence  from  information  received 
from  natives  and  others  prior  to  1908.  He  gave  the  first  chemical  analysis  (by 
David  T.  Day)  of  the  residue,    a  sample  he  obtained  from  Charles  Brower  at 

Point    Barrow.     He  added  " the  natives  say   that  a  considerable  amount 

could  easily  be  dug  out  with  spades." 

His  observations  and  a  sample  of  the  oil  were  evidently  made  and  col- 
lected prior  to  1908  because  practically  the  same  information  is  given  by 
Brooks  in  his  report  of  Alaska  operations  for  that  year. 

He  mentioned  another  reported  "petroleum  mound"  between  Humphrey 
Point  and  Aichillik  River  near  the  coast.  This  is  east  of  Barter  Island  and 
almost  on  the  142°  meridian.  If  true,  it  is  the  easternmost  surface  evidence 
of  oil  in  the  region,  but  may  perhaps  refer  to  the  seepages  called  "Ungoon" 
Point  by  Ebbley  and  Joesting. 

Ejnar  Mikkelsen,  who  accompanied  Leffingwell  during  the  early  part  of 
his  work  in  the  Arctic,  made  an  overland  trip  from  Flaxman  Island  to  Valdez 
during  the  winter  of  1907-1908.  On  the  way  to  Point  Barrow  he  passed  close 
to  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages  but  did  not  mention  them  in  the  narrative  of 
his  experience  (1909,  pp.  334-362).  It  seems  that  had  he  known  of  them  he 
would  have  given  them  some  notice,  especially  if  at  the  time  the  residue  was 
being  used  for  fuel.  He  does  tell  about  the  beginning  of  the  use  of  coal  by 
Eskimos  at  Wainwright  through  the  efforts  of  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Kilbuck,  school- 
teachers (Mikkelsen,  1909,  p.  357). 

Unless  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages  were  visited  by  one  of  the  early 
explorers  or  whalers  whose  observations  were  not  recorded  or  have  been  over- 
looked, the  first  white  man  to  see  them  was  the  well  known  Charles  Brower 
and  his  partner,  Patrick  Grey,  while  on  a  hunting  trip.  In  August  1886,  they 
walked  inland  toward  a  "distant  hill."  Near-by  they  found  two  so-called 
"lakes"  in  the  larger  of  which  there  were  four  trapped  caribou  and  several 
spectacled  eider  ducks  (Brower,  1943,  p.  84). 

No  doubt  Brower  staked  claims  on  the  seepages  and  maintained  them 
as  best  he  could  for  many  years  (Tommy  Brower,  verbal  communication,  1957). 
In  1922  during  a  visit  to  San  Francisco  the  elder  Brower  contacted  the  Stand- 
ard Oil  Company  and  the  then  Chief  Geologist,  G.  C.  Gester  (verbal  communi- 


cation,  1958)  was  sufficiently  impressed  by  the  description  that  he  despatched 
a  geological  party  to  Point  Barrow  to  investigate  the  situation. 

During  the  progress  of  the  Canadian  Arctic  Expedition,  1913-1918, 
one  of  the  party.  Diamond  Jenness,  was  camped  at  Cape  Simpson  and  visited 
the  seepages  after  being  told  of  them  by  an  Eskimo  companion.  He  found  an 
Arctic  owl  dead  on  the  "shore"  (Jenness,  1957,  p.  21). 

Van  Valin  (1941,  pp.  117-122;  1945,  pp.  94-199)  published  an  account 
of  a  trip  he  made  with  a  party  of  20  to  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages  in  May, 
1915.  In  the  group  were  Charles  Brower  and  T.  L.  Richardson,  school  teacher 
at  Point  Barrow.  Some  additional  details  of  the  trip  have  been  supplied  by 
Mrs.  Ruth  (Richardson)  Belstorff,  of  Johnson,  Nebraska,  verbally  and  by  let- 
ter. She  was  a  young  girl  at  Point  Barrow  at  the  time  and  has  the  diaries 
kept  by  her  parents.  Mr.  Richardson  had  been  to  the  seepages  twice  before 
this  trip  and  was  instrumental  in  organizing  the  large  party.  Two  twenty- 
acre  claims  were  staked  under  the  name  "Arctic  Rim  Mineral  Oil  Claims," 
and  they  were  recorded  at  Kiana,  on  Squirrel  Creek,  a  tributary  of  the  Kobuk 
River  according  to  Van  Valin  (p.  127).  Mrs.  Belstorff  has  copies  of  original 
papers  pertaining  to  these  claims  (letter,  May  8,  1960).  Van  Valin  (p.  121) 
also  described  the  low  hills  which  mark  the  seepages  and  mentions  numerous 
oil  soaked  and  partly  eaten  birds  around  the  margin  in  soft  residue.  He  also 
speculated  upon  the  possibility  of  these  being  traps  of  long  duration  similar 
to  the  La  Brea  Pits  in  Los  Angeles,  California.  He  evidently  was  in  error 
in  assuming  that  the  Eskimos  used  this  tar  to  "seal  leaky  seams  in  their  skin 

Mr.  George  Gryc  has  examined  the  files  of  the  U.  S.  Geological  Survey 
in  Washington  and  very  kindly  supplied  the  following  information  regarding 
the  next  oil  excitement. 

"We  have  two  maps,  one  of  the  Wainwright-Smith  Bay  region  at  a  scale 
of  1  inch  equals  10  miles  and  another  of  the  Cape  Simpson  area,  at  a  scale  of 
1    inch   equals   1  mile.    The  titles  state  'examined  by  Adams  Expedition  for 
North  Star  Oil  Syndicate.  Mapping  by  Max  Steineke,  Harry  Campbell  and  A.M. 
Smith.'     The  Wainwright-Smith  Bay  map  has  large  areas  outlined  in  the  Cape 
Simpson,    lower  Meade  River,    and  Skull  Cliff  areas,  which  were  presumably 
staked  according  to  the  old  placer  claim  laws.  The  maps  are  dated  July  5  and 
August  30,  1921.  This  was  after  the  placer  laws  were  superceded  by  oil  and 
gas-lease   laws  (February,    1920).   I  believe  Sandy  [A.  M.  Smith]  told  me  that 
they  were  not  aware  of  the  new  regulations  at  the  time  they  were  in  the  field. 
The  mile  to  the  inch  map  shows  the  area  of  the  individual  claims  in  the  Cape 
Simpson    area.    The  first  map  also  has   two  seepages  plotted  in  the  Simpson 
area,     two  at  Skull  Cliff  and  a  'gas  seepage'  about   10  miles  northeast  along 
the    coast  from   the  Skull  Cliff  oil  seepages.    In  the  lower  Meade  River  area 
several  dips  and  strikes  are  plotted  as  well  as  six  oil  seepages." 


According  to  Smith's  account  of  the  expedition  as  published  in  Alaska 
Weekly,  April  20,  1923,  he  and  R.  D.  Adams  went  north  in  the  spring  of  1921. 
Adams,  it  states,  won  a  fortune  in  the  Nome  gold  fields  and  he  was  one  of 
the  group  of  backers. 

It  seems  apparent  from  available  documents  that  much  if  not  all  of  this 
early  activity  resulted  from  the  promotional  proclivities  of  prospector  Alex- 
ander Malcom  (Sandy)  Smith.    He  was  connected  with  the  ill-fated  attempt  to 
take  some  tractors  over  the  Brooks  Range  to  Point  Barrow  in  connection  with 
exploratory  flights  by  Sir  Hubert  VVilkins  and  Bernt  Balchen   (Wilkins,    Jan. 
1955,  verbal  communication).    The  machines  were  soon  abandoned,  but  Smith 
and  a  companion,  recorded  as  W.  H.  Berry,  finally  reached  Point  Barrow  in  a 
rather    pitiful   condition  (Tommy  Brower,  personal  communication,  1957).    On 
the   way,    it  seems  that   Smith   got  into  one  of  the   seepages   and  thereafter 
claimed  to  be  the  discoverer  of  what  Charles  Brower  had  visited  long  before. 
It  is  difficult  to  sift  fact  from  fiction  in  the  newspaper  account  (cited  above) 
but  it  does  appear  that  Smith's  group  staked  37  claims  (in  a  four-page  manu- 
script I  have  seen  the  number  is  given  as  42)  in  the  general  Point  Barrow 
area  but  locations  are  not  given.  The  paper  does  not  mention  Harry  S.  Camp- 
bell but  it  is  known  that  he  prepared  a  report.  It  is  mentioned  in  several  U.S. 
Geological  Survey  Reports  but  was  not  found  by  Mr.  Gryc  in  the  Washington 
office  files  and  Don  Miller  (verbal  communication)  was  unable  to  locate  it  in 
the  files  of  the  Alaska  Branch  office  at  Menlo  Park,  California.     Very  likely 
information  contained  in  it  was  used  to  some  extent  in  the  setting  up  of  Nav- 
al Petroleum  Reserve  No.  4. 

While  on  the  Arctic  Coast  Mr.  Campbell  picked  up  a  small  series  of  re- 
cent marine  shells  which  he  presented  to  the  California  Academy  of  Sciences 
and  they  are  now  a  part  of  the  research  collection  of  that  institution. 

In  the  collection  of  papers  owned  by  Malcom  A.  Smith  (son  of  "Sandy" 
Smith)  there  is  a  photograph  of  Harry  S.  Campbell,  Max  Steineke,  W.  D.  Adams, 
Mr.  Smith,  and  a  man  named  "Pond"  standing  beside  a  low  sod  house,  prob- 
ably at  Half  Moon  Ranch,  the  reindeer  station  of  the  Brower  family.  The  pho- 
tograph is  not  dated. 

E.  M.  Butterworth  and  Charles  Meek  spent  the  season  of  1923  working 
in  the  Point  Barrow  area  for  Standard  Oil  Company  of  California.  They  visited 
Cape  Simpson  and  also  Skull  Cliff  about  30  miles  south  of  the  point.  A  seep- 
age was  reported  to  them  there.  During  the  course  of  their  work  they  collected 
a  good  series  of  Pleistocene  fossils  at  Skull  Cliff  from  the  formation  which 
has  come  under  the  name  Gubik  of  later  years.  Meek  described  and  illustrated 
these  (Meek,  1923).  Whatever  their  recommendations  may  have  been  regarding 
commercial  oil  possibilities,  they  were  nullified  soon  thereafter  by  the  setting 
aside  of  the  entire  area  as  Naval  Petroleum  Reserve  No.  4   (Harding,  1923). 

No.  38)  MANNA:  OIL  SKHPAGHS  OF  AK(   IK    ALASKA  7 

The  documents  and  arguments  which  were  presented  and  which  resulted    in 
the  establishment  of  this  Reserve,  have  not  been  published. 

Thus,  it  appears  clear  that  the  first  geologists  who  studied  any  part  of 
the  Arctic  slope  from  a  petroleum  standpoint  were  Harry  S.  Campbell  and  Max 
Steineke  in  1921,  even  though  the  results  of  their  observations  are  fragmen- 
tary. Unfortunately  it  is  necessary  to  omit  from  discussion  in  this  connection 
the  marvelous  work  of  the  justly  celebrated  geologist  Schrader  (1904)  because 
his  report  contains  no  information  regarding  the  presence  of  oil  and  gas. 

Private  investigations  of  the  region  ceased  with  1923  and  the  setting 
aside  of  the  Reserve.  The  first  Government  geological  report  appeared  two 
years  later  by  Paige,  Foran,  and  Gilluly  (1925)  as  a  Bulletin  of  the  U.  S.  Geo- 
logical Survey.  That  branch  of  the  Government  has  been  responsible  for  near- 
ly all  subsequent  work. 

Paige  et  rt/.  described  the  two  main  Capt  Simpson  seepages  and  photo- 
graphed them.  The  "weathered"  live  oil  was  analyzed.  They  did  not  mention 
the  presence  of  trapped  animals  or  the  mining  of  the  heavier  residues  by  the 
Eskimos.  Mention  was  made  of  the  presence  of  fragments  of  shale  on  the  two 
mounds  at  the  seepage  localities.  In  sinking  pits  on  the  mounds  which  have 
the  seepages,  Patton  (1948,  p.  2)  reported  that  no  bed  rock  was  found  but  in 
the  silt  and  clay  some  rounded  chert  and  quartzite  pebbles  were  found.  Also 
some  pieces  of  limey  shale,  limestone,  and  ironstone  float  were  found  on  the 
surface,  and  a  few  similar  ones  were  found  in  the  excavations.  Two  samples 
of  silt  and  clay  from  pits  Nos.  1  and  2  yielded  four  and  seven  species  of  For- 
aminifera  respectively,  generically  determined  only  by  Mrs.  Helen  Loeblich 
(Patton,  1948,  p.  3). 

The  work  of  Smith  and  Mertie  in  1925,  although  not  published  until  1930, 
is  still  a  basic  reference  to  the  general  geology  of  that  region.  Their  efforts 
were  concentrated  on  geology  and  no  new  seepages  of  oil  were  discovered. 
They  quoted  the  description  of  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages  from  Paige  et  al. 
(Smith  and  Mertie,  pp.  176-278)  and  added  a  map  to  show  their  location.  They 
did  find  a  piece  of  oil  shale  as  float  on  the  Etivluk  River  not  far  from  the  oc- 
currence described  by  Howard  (in  Stoney,  1899,  p.  814).  Two  additional  pieces 
of  shale  float  were  given  to  them,  one  from  upper  and  one  from  lower  Meade 
River  (Smith  and  Mertie,  1930,  p.  284). 

In  1943  Norman  Ebbley  (U.  S.  Bureau  of  Mines),  Henry  R.  Joesting  (Ter- 
ritorial Department  of  Mines),  and  Henry  F.  Thomas  (U.  S.  Army  Engineers) 
were  sent  to  the  Arctic  slope  specifically  to  investigate  oil  and  gas  seepages. 
Sigurd  Wien  was  pilot  and  Simon  Paneak,  an  Eskimo  of  Anaktuvuk  and  Chand- 
ler Lake,  was  guide. 

A  comprehensive  manuscript  report  on  this  work  was  submitted  by  Ebb- 
ley  and  Joesting  (1943,  33  pp.).  I  had  an  opportunity  to  examine  a  copy  of  this 
through  the  courtesy  of  Mr.  Max  Brewer,  Director,  Arctic  Research  Laboratory. 



(Occ.  Papers 

It  contains  much  more  information  than  the  condensed  published  report  (Anon. 
1944,  pp.  1-9,  and  Ebbley,1944,  pp.  415-419).  Since  both  reports  are  relatively 
inaccessible,  numerous  significant  passages  have  been  quoted  herein. 

Skull  Cliff  Seepage 
Skull  Cliff  is  located  on  the  coast  about  30  miles  south  of  Point  Bar- 
row and  was  evidently  known  by  1921  because  the  party  sent  north  that  year 
by  the  North  Star  Oil  Syndicate  staked  claims  there.  George  Gryc  mentioned 
the  seepage  (1958,  p.  126;  1959,  p.  92)  and  that  oil  may  be  seen  oozing  from 
the  Cretaceous  rocks  there.  He  also  mentioned  the  seepages  at  the  base  of 
Umiat  Mountain  and  in  the  lakes  just  west  of  it.  In  a  very  brief  landingat  Skull 
Cliff  in  1954,  I  did  not  search  for  the  oil  although  I  examined  the  Cretaceous 
and  Gubik  rocks  at  that  point  for  fossils. 

Brooks  (1916,  p.  52)  referred  somewhat  indefinitely  to  a  seepage  re- 
ported to  him  as  near  Wainwright  Inlet  and  100  miles  southwest  of  Point  Bar- 
row. No  additional  information  has  been  found.  Possibly  Skull  Cliff  could 
have  been  in  the  mind  of  the  informant  although  the  location  is  far  off. 





:ase  inlet      '^\9^ 
vpe  simpson       ^^^    j 


2.  DE 

3.  CA 

4.  UMIAT 

5.  FISH    CREEK 



8.  HUMPHREY    POINT     r 

1 0.    AUPUK 


Figxire  1.      Outline  map  showing  locations  of  oil  and  gas  seepages  in  Arctic  Alaska. 

Dease  Inlet  Seepage 
Ebbley  and  Joesting  located  this  seepage  and  another  about  200  yards 
east  of  it,  as  on  the  east   side  of  Dease  Inlet  about  4.5  miles  northeast  of 


Thomas  Brewer's  warehouse.  The  latter  is  indicated  on  U.  S.  Geological  Sur- 
vey Map  E  of  Alaska,  1954,  by  the  name  Alaktak.  This  is  near  the  mouth  of 
Chipp  River.  Heavy  residue  had  issued  from  a  low  mound.  It  formed  a  deposit 
sufficient  for  some  mining  operations  by  the  Eskimos  to  secure  fuel. 

Cape  Simpson  Area 

There  are  three  well  known  seepages  of  oil  in  this  area  and  they  have 
been  referred  to  repeatedly  as  Nos.  1,  2  and  3.  Ebbley  and  Joesting  located 
No.  1  as  four  miles  northwest  of  Cape  Simpson  and  500  yards  from  the  ocean 
shore.  Seep  No.  2,  is  on  a  prominent  hill  three  miles  south  of  No.  1.  It  is 
slightly  south  and  about  500  yards  east  of  the  ocean  shore.  The  oil  flows 
down  hill  and  eventually  reaches  a  lake  which  covers  several  acres.  At  times 
it  must  cover  the  surface  of  the  water  and  this  led  to  early  reports  of  "a  lake 
of  oil."  There  is  much  evidence  of  residue  although  parts  of  the  area  have 
been  stripped  by  Eskimos  for  fuel.  Seep  No.  3  is  about  five  miles  south  and 
a  little  east  of  No.  2.  It  is  farther  from  the  ocean  than  Nos.  1  and  2,  and 
therefore  was  not  mined  as  extensively.  The  residue  covers  an  area  about 
800  feet  x  1000  feet  according  to  Ebbley  and  Joesting. 

A  fourth  seep  noted  as  2A  on  a  map  prepared  by  Arctic  Contractors,  No. 
1275,  dated  December,  1950,  is  located  almost  midway  between  Nos.  2  and  3. 
Well  No.  31  was  drilled  here. 

In  addition  to  the  above,  Ebbley  and  Joesting  stated  that  two  addition- 
al seepages  were  known  in  this  area  about  10  miles  west  of  Cape  Simpson. 
No  other  reference  to  these  has  been  found. 

Numerous  test  wells  and  a  few  for  production  were  drilled  in  the  Cape 
Simpson  area  with  some  encouraging  results.    (For  details,  see  Reed,  1958.) 

In  1948  the  U.  S.  Geological  Survey  (Patton,  pp.  1-4)  dug  two  pits  on 
Seepage  No.  1,  four  on  Seepage  No.  2,  and  one  on  Seepage  No.  3.  These 
varied  in  depth  from  9  to  13  feet  and  were  located  so  as  to  give  as  much  in- 
formation as  possible  on  the  origin  of  the  light  oil.  No  extensive  deposit  of 
residue  was  found.  The  oil  seemed  to  be  escaping  by  way  of  steeply  dipping 
fractures  in  the  permafrost  which  had  no  regular  orientation.  "The  fractures 
varied  in  width  from  a  few  inches  to  a  foot  and  were  filled  with  loosely  com- 
pacted oil  saturated  silt  and  clay." 

From  this  investigation  it  seems  unlikely  that  there  is  a  reservoir  of 
pitch  of  sufficient  size  to  serve  as  an  animal  trap  similar  to  those  of  McKit- 
trick  and  La  Brea  in  California. 

The  locations  of  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages  are  more  accurately  shown 
on  a  map  prepared  by  W.W. Patton,  Jr.  (1948).  Using  Cape  Simpson  as  a  refer- 
ence point  these  are:  No.  1-3  mi.  N.,  |  mi.  from  ocean  shore;No.  2  -3i  mi.  S.  of 
No.  1,  11  mi.  from  ocean  shore;   No.  3- 3^  mi.  S.  of  No.  2,  2  mi.  from  ocean  shore. 

White  Mountain  Area 

Ebbley  and  Joesting  had  a  report  from  Eskimo  sources  that  there  was  a 


seepage  of  oil  about  5  or  10  miles  north  of  the  "White  Mountains"  and  be- 
tween the  east  and  west  forks  of  the  Kupowruk  River.  They  searched  for,  but 
did  not  find  evidence  of  oil. 

Umiat  Area 

Ebbley  and  Joesting  described  four  seepages  in  this  area.  A  steady  flow 
of  light  oil  and  gas  was  found  in  a  small  lake  "about  a  mile  west  of  Umiat 
Mountain  and  100  yards  from  the  north  bank  of  the  Colville  River.  More  oil  was 
found  in  another  lake  about  a  mile  west  of  this  one.  And  sand  containing  high 
gravity  oil  was  found  on  the  river  bank  south  of  the  first  lake  mentioned.  They 
reported  that  seven  years  prior  to  their  visit  Simon  Paneak  collected  a  gallon 
of  oil  from  the  sand  and  this  was  burned  in  a  lamp  by  a  trader  at  Beechey  Point. 

Wells  drilled  in  this  area  during  Naval  exploration  showed  on  produc- 
tion tests  that  estimates  of  reserves  were  warranted. 

Fish  Creek  Seepage 
This  small  patch  of  residue  was  described  by  Ebbley  and  Joesting  as  be- 
ing about  6  feet  X  20  feet  in  extent.  They  noted  that  a  "great  many"  birds  and 
small  rodents  had  been  trapped  in  the  tar.  The  location  was  said  to  be  25 
miles  southwest  of  the  mouth  of  the  Colville  River  and  more  specifically,  4 
miles  north  60°  West  from  the  junction  of  Ovolotuk  and  Fish  creeks.  Small  pro- 
duction of  heavy  oil  was  obtained  from  a  Navy  test  well  drilled  in  this  vicinity. 

Brownlow  Point 

In  1954  the  U.  S.  Geological  Survey  received  a  report  of  a  rather  exten- 
sive seepage  near  Brownlow  Point.  It  has  not  been  investigated  since  as  far 
as  has  been  learned.  An  Air  Force  employee  driving  a  tracked  vehicle  was 
mired  in  the  tar  and  extracted  himself  with  considerable  difficulty.  The  exact 
location  he  gave  was  at  the  head  of  the  small  unnamed  bay  bounded  on  the 
east  by  the  peninsula  of  which  Brownlow  Point  is  the  north  extremity,  and  on 
the  southwest  by  a  long  narrow  spit  with  Ruth  Island  off  the  extreme  tip.  This 
area  is  well  shown  on  U.  S.  Geological  Survey,  Flaxman  Island  Quadrangle, 
Ed.  1951.  The  above  information  was  furnished  by  Mrs.  Florence  (Robinson) 
Weber  and  Mr.  George  Gryc,  both  of  the  U.  S.  Geological  Survey. 

Manning  Point  Seepage 
Ebbley  and  Joesting  describe  this  as  an  extensive  beach  with  much 

Plate    1 

Upper  figure.         A  portion  of  deposit  of  oil  seepage  residue  (No.   2),  Cape  Simpson, 
Alaska,   with  Eskimo  home-made  spade  used  in  gathering  the  material 
for  fuel.  1918-1947. 

Lower  figure.        Pit  at  oil  seepage  No.  2,  Cape  Simpson,  Alaska,  with  pool  of  live  oil. 
The  residue  excavated  contained  many  bones  of  animals. 






free  oil  in  evidence.  The  Point  is  located  about  two  miles  southeast  of  Bar- 
ter Island.  They  add:    "No  actual  pitch  residue  was  noted;  however,  the  north- 
west and  northeast  beaches  which  form  the  point  are  lined  with  oil  froth  for  a 
mile  and  a  half.  A  considerable  portion  of  the  beach  particularly  on  the  north- 
west side,  consists  of  an  oil  bound  silt  and  numerous  boulders  of  soft  oil 
bound  reddish-brown  sand  were  observed.    Several  trickles  of  water-carrying 
oil  film  cross  the  narrow  beach.  Oil  soaked  peat  was  noted  at  several  places 
along  the  sloughed  bank.     Sample  No.   11  was  taken  from  the  oil  bound  silt 
found  in  layers  along  the  northwest  beach.  An  unconsolidated  oil  soaked  silt 
underlies  the  surface.     Sample  No.   12  was  skimmed  from  the  several  small 
streams  of  water  flowing  from  the  bank  to  the  ocean.  Sample  No.  13  was  col- 
lected from  exposures  of  an  unconsolidated  oil  bound  brownish  red  sand  which 
appeared  in  places  along  the  bank.     Sample  No.   14  consisted  of  oil  soaked 
vegetable  debris  found  along  the  bank  throughout  the  entire  mile  and  a  half 
distance."     The  U.S.  Bureau  of  Mines  later  extracted  the  oil  from  the  above 
samples  and  the  gravity  varied  as  follows:    17.3°,  19.0°,  2.6°  and  21.3°  all  API 
(Anon.  p.  7).  This  field  work  was  done  in  1943  before  any  contamination  from 
building  or  drilling  activity  was  likely.   I  have  seen  no  other  reference  to  the 


Ungoon  Point  Seepage 

This  name  is  not  located  on  any  map  available  to  me  but  Ebbley  and 
Joesting  give  the  position  as  7  miles  east  of  Humphrey  Point  and  about  40 
miles  west  of  Demarcation  Point.  They  added  the  following  data:  "Ungoon 
is  the  Eskimo  term  for  pitch.  Three  evidences  of  petroleum  seepages  were 
found  on  Ungoon  Point.  The  largest  of  these  is  a  mile  and  a  quarter  south 
from  the  sod  house  on  the  Point.  The  pitch  is  black  and  hard  and  is  extreme- 
ly difficult  to  dig.  A  small  amount  of  mining  has  been  carried  out  and  the 
pitch  has  appeared  in  several  small  holes  where  the  tundra  has  been  removed. 
The  general  area  is  approximately  300  feet  north  and  south  and  100  feet  east 
and  west. 

"Six  hundred  yards  east  and  about  250  yards  from  the  east  beach  a 
small  pool  has  been  excavated  in  the  center  of  a  small  hummock.  Sample  No. 
16  was  taken  from  this  material  which  has  the  same  consistency  as  the  larger 
exposure.  On  the  east  side  of  Ungoon  Point  and  in  line  with  the  two  seepages 
mentioned  above,  an  exposure  of  oil  bound  sand  four  feet  thick  appears  along 
the  bank  for  a  distance  of  about  30  feet.  This  deposit  is  located  one  and  one 
half  miles  southeasterly  from  Ungoon  Point  proper." 

U.  S.  Geological  Survey  Exploration 

During  the  years  1944-1953,  very  extensive  and  detailed  exploration  of 
the  Arctic  Coastal  Plain  was  made  by  geologists  of  the  U.  S.  Geological  Sur- 
vey. These  parties  were  well  equipped  with  modern  transportation  and  bases 
of  supply  at  Point  Barrow  and  Umiat.  The  work  was  a  continuing  project  dur- 


ing  the  test  drilling  of  Navy  Petroleum  Reserve  No.  4,  so  that  plans  could  be 
made  well  in  advance. 

Pahron  Gas  Seepage 

As  might  be  expected  these  geological  field  parties  visited  all  of  the 
known  oil  and  gas  seepages  in  the  area  and  searched  for  additional  ones 
about  which  there  were  rumors.  In  addition  to  verifying  an  actual  oil  seepage 
at  Skull  Cliff,  Webber  (1947)  reported  briefly  on  a  gas  seepage  named  "Pah- 
ron" near  the  head  waters  of  Meade  River.  Whittington  and  Keller  (1950)  re- 
visited the  seepage  and  gave  a  more  precise  locality  as;  157°  36'  W.  Long, 
and  one  fourth  mile  north  of  the  river.  Gas  was  escaping  about  100  feet  out 
in  the  lake  and  along  a  zone  about  50  feet  in  length  (Gryc,  1959,  p.  92). 

Apuk  Gas  Seepage 

A  rather  extensive  seepage  of  dry  gas  was  discovered  in  1945  at  the 
eastern  end  of  the  Aupuk  Anticline  in  a  small  lake  1|  miles  above  the  junc- 
tion of  Aupuk  Creek  and  the  Colville  River. 

In  subsequent  years  this  area  was  re-examined  and  Eberlein,  Chapman, 
and  Reynolds  (1950)  collected  a  sample.  The  gas  bubbled  to  the  surface  of 
the  lake  over  about  300  square  feet.  The  analysis  of  the  gas  was  published 
by  Gryc  (1959,  p.  93),  together  with  additional  details  pertaining  to  this  and 
the  Pahron  seepage.  Another  seepage,  which  may  possibly  be  an  extension 
of  Aupuk  structure,  was  reported  by  R.  F.  Thurrell  in  May,  1947.  In  this  case 
the  bubbling  of  gas  in  the  lake  caused  a  small  ice-free  area  (Gryc  1959,  p. 
93).  Gryc  (1959,  pp.  94-95)  mentioned  oil-bearing  sandstones  found  by  various 
members  of  the  Geological  Survey  from  several  localities:  on  the  Kokolik 
River  north  of  the  axis  of  syncline  10;  also  in  the  Carbon  Creek  and  Kigalik- 
Awuna  Rivers  area.  Most  significant  possibly  was  the  noting  of  an  almost 
continuous  belt  of  Upper  Jurassic  shale  along  the  north  front  of  the  Brooks 
Range.  It  burns  readily  and  undoubtedly  was  the  fuel  found  in  1886  by  How- 
ard. And  lastly,  the  Lisburne  limestones  of  Mississippian  age  in  the  Brooks 
Range  were  found  to  have  a  strong  odor  and  traces  of  petroleum  (Gryc,  1959, 
p.  112). 

Use  of  Oil  Seepage  Residue  by  Eskimo  People 

No  definite  evidence  has  been  found  to  indicate  that  the  native  people 
used  the  pitch  or  tar  from  the  oil  seepages  in  prehistoric  times  (Ford,  James 
A.  Letter  dated  Jan.  20,  1950).  This  is  surprising  in  view  of  their  ingenuity 
in  using  many  other  available  products. 

Recollections  of  the  people  differ  as  to  the  exact  year  when  they  began 
using  the  material  for  fuel  and  who  induced  them  to  do  so.  The  earliest  def- 
inite record  I  have  found  was  the  spring  of  1918  when  Van  Valen  (1941,  p. 
149,  1945,  p.  122)  sent  Eskimos  to  the  [Cape  Simpson]  seepages  for  a  supply 
of  tar  during  a  fuel  shortage. 


Stefansson  (1913,  pp.  45-46)  spent  a  part  of  the  winter  of  1908-1909  at 
Point  Barrow  and  described  the  extreme  shortage  of  fuel.  The  Eskimos  had 
exhausted  the  supply  of  driftwood  for  many  miles  each  side  of  the  village.  If 
they  had  then  known  of  the  heating  properties  of  the  material  at  Cape  Simpson 
the  author  would  almost  certainly  have  mentioned  it.  Thus  it  appears  that  the 
use  of  the  residue  from  the  seepages  for  fuel  was  started  between  1908  and 

Leffingwell's  reference  in  his  1919  report  is  rather  indefinite  in  this 
respect,  but  it  indicates  that  some  ten  years  prior  to  when  his  report  was 
written,  the  natives  knew  how  to  go  about  mining  the  material.  In  the  early 
spring  of  1932  anthropologist  James  A.  Ford,  accompanied  Alfred  Hopson  to 
seepages  for  two  sled  loads  of  fuel  (Ford,  1959,  p.  15). 

When  Ebbley  and  Joesting  visited  the  Arctic  Slope  in  1943,  they  noted 
several  hundred  sacks  of  residue  at  the  now  abandoned  Brower  reindeer  sta- 
tion on  Dease  Inlet.  This  had  been  removed  from  the  seepage  bearing  that 
name.  They  also  noted  evidence  of  mining  at  Ungoon  Point  and  at  all  three 
Cape  Simpson  seepages.  They  estimated  the  amount  of  material  taken  from  the 
latter  as  3000  sacks  of  100  pounds  each  as  the  annual  amount  removed.  I  was 
able  to  verify  this  estimate  from  Eskimo  sources. 

In  1957  three  reliable  Eskimos,  Peter  Solvalik,  Chester  Lampe,  and 
Kenneth  Tuvak  gave  me  a  detailed  account  of  the  methods  employed  ingather- 
ing the  residue.    All  three  had  worked  at  this  and  had  first-hand  knowledge. 

The  best  season  for  cutting  the  "pitch,"  as  it  is  locally  known,  was 
the  spring.  Homemade  spades  (fig.  1)  were  used  to  cut  out  rectangular  blocks 
convenient  in  size  to  put  in  sacks  of  about  100  pounds  each  for  transport  to 
the  village  of  Barrow.  Much  of  it  was  hauled  the  80  miles  directly  by  dog 
team;  a  load  would  consist  of  six  or  seven  sacks.  A  larger  quantity,  however, 
was  hauled  to  the  beach  by  dog  team  and  when  water  transport  became  pos- 
sible in  the  summer  it  was  taken  to  the  village  by  umiak. 

The  method  of  cutting  the  pitch  was  to  heat  a  spade  very  hot  over  an 
open  fire.  This  made  the  blocks  easy  to  remove  from  a  working  face.  All 
agreed  that  the  material  made  excellent  fuel  which  lasted  a  long  time,  and 
gave  a  great  deal  of  heat  together  with  much  smoke.  It  was  liked  better  than 
the  coal  which  replaced  it. 

In  mining  the  deposits,  the  Eskimos  preferred  to  choose  localities 
where  the  pitch  had  flowed  out  over  the  surface  of  the  tundra  and  was  about 
a  foot  thick.  Only  rarely  did  they  go  to  a  greater  depth  than  two  feet,  and 
there  seemed  to  be  some  fear  of  miring  down  if  the  center  was  worked.  When 
the  Navy  established  its  camp  for  drilling  Petroleum  Reserve  No.  4  and  it  be- 
came possible  to  haul  coal  from  Meade  River  by  tractor  train  in  winter,  enough 
of  that  fuel  was  brought  in  to  supply  the  native  village  and  some  of  the  Gov- 
ernment establishments  located  there.  Work  in  the  mine  and  for  the  Navy  con- 


tractors  provided  sufficient  funds  so  that  the  natives  could  purchase  the  coal. 
This  has  continued  until  the  present.  Gas  from  the  Barrow  field  was  reported 
to  have  been  made  available  to  government  buildings  in  the  native  village 
late  in  1958  or  early  1959. 

Trapped  Animals 

In  recounting  their  mining  experiences  at  the  Cape  Simpson  seepages, 
the  natives  told  of  the  large  number  of  animals  and  birds  which  became  trap- 
ped. They  enumerated  small  land  and  shore  birds,  caribou,  foxes,  and  wolves, 
No  mention  was  made  of  lemmings,  the  most  numerous  of  Arctic  mammals. 

I  spent  several  days  in  the  Cape  Simpson  area,  in  the  summer  of  1957 
especially  to  investigate  the  reported  trapped  animals  by  Eskimos  and  by 
Ebbley  and  Joesting  (1943).  The  latter  also  reported  "great  numbers  of  birds 
and  small  rodents  caught  in  the  gummy  residue  at  the  Fish  Creek  seepage." 
The  bones  which  I  collected  were  embedded  in  the  tar.  With  better  facilities 
for  excavating,  no  doubt  additional  material  could  have  been  obtained. 

At  Seepage  No.  1  many  separate  elements    of  caribou  skeletons    were 
found.    In  addition  10  parts  of  seal  skeletons  were  picked  up.  At  Seepage  No. 
2,  25  bones  of  caribou  and  9  of  seals  were  collected.  Also  there  was  a  flip- 
per bone  of  a  small  whale.     The  identifications  were  made  by  Dr.  Robert  T. 
Orr,  California  Academy  of  Sciences. 

While  all  of  the  specimens  which  I  collected  belong  to  species  now  liv- 
ing in  the  area  of  the  seepages,  it  seems  reasonable  to  suppose  that  the  tar 
has  been  effective  as  long  as  it  has  been  present.    It  is  not  known  if  oil  has 
been  escaping  since  the  emergence  of  the  coastal  plain  or  even  earlier.  If  so, 
then  there  is  a  possibility  of  Pleistocene  animals  being  present. 

The  actual  cause  of  the  mounds  from  which  the  oil  emerges  is  not  known 
for  certain.  The  work  of  Patton  (1948  and  personal  communication)  does  not 
indicate  that  they  are  the  direct  result  of  building  of  residue  or  residue-soaked 
silt.  Anticlinal  structure  has  not  been  definitely  determined.  There  is  a  pos- 
sibility that  the  fractures  discovered  in  the  pits  were  caused  by  earth  move- 
ments, thus  allowing  surface  water  to  penetrate.  Expansion  upon  freezing 
could  cause  some  heaving  as  it  does  in  the  formation  of  polygonal  surface 
structures.  One  small  mound  was  found  north  and  a  little  east,  one  half 
mile  from  Seepage  No.  2,  which  contained  no  evidence  of  oil  in  the  pit  Patton 

Pit  No.  2  was  excavated  to  a  depth  of  eight  feet  by  bulldozer  during 
drilling  near  by  in  order  to  secure  fluid  for  oil  base  drilling  mud  (Ted  Math- 
ews, personal  communication).  It  is  noteworthy  that  the  deepest  material 
brought  out  then  contained  many  bones  and  the  matrix  was  still  soft  "tar" 
(fig.  2).  It  was  noted  that  the  bones  from  the  deepest  material  excavated  were 
not    as  well  preserved  as  those  higher  up.    No  evidence  of  mummification  or 


flesh  preservation  was  seen,  although  this  might  be  expected  in  the  climate 
of  that  area. 

Among  the  bones  collected  in  1957  there  were  numerous  parts  of  skel- 
etons of  seals.  The  natives  who  worked  at  mining  the  pitch  undoubtedly  car- 
ried some  of  them  there  with  their  food  and  may  have  brought  them  all.  The 
only  other  explanation  would  seem  to  be  to  assume  a  late  marine  submergence 
so  that  the  mounds  became  islands,  which  is  a  possibility  but  lacks  definite 
proof.  In  the  Antarctic  mummified  seals  have  been  found  many  miles  inland 
from  salt  water  (Pewe,  Rivard  and  Llano,  1959),  but  the  Eskimos  I  consulted 
had  no  knowledge  of  such  movements  of  seals  in  Arctic  Alaska. 

With  the  limited  time  and  equipment  at  my  disposal  it  is  not  strange 
that  no  remains  of  polar  bears  were  found  in  the  seepages,  and  perhaps  there 
are  none.  It  is  well  known  that  the  large  brown  bears  of  central  and  western 
Alaska  habitually  seek  oil  seepages  and  wallow  in  them  (Hanna,  1948,  pp. 
138-139).  However,  inquiry  among  reliable  Eskimos  of  Point  Barrow  did  not 
yield  any  information  indicating  such  an  activity  for  the  polar  bears  of  that 

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